Day 99: back in the saddle

Day 99
Miles: 35*
From Beegum Creek to Hell’s Gate

Waking up is crawling out of a deep black hole. “Where am I?” I think groggily. “Oh yeah. Sleeping in my underwear under a bridge.” Where else would I be?

Team Whiskers is well rested and ready to ride today. We’re at the part of highway 36 I’ve been worried about: the passes. Walking passes is hard enough – I’m worried it’s going to be twenty miles of walk-a-bike when I can’t pedal myself uphill.

Downshift, downshift, downshift, go. When it’s low as it goes, put your head down and pedal. Team Whiskers slowly goes up the mountain. As long as you keep going, you will eventually get there.

We make it to Platina and buy breakfast burritos, surprisingly delicious. We pump every customer in there for information on the road coming up. The white-haired woman behind the counter, when asked about herself, refers obliquely to the time she left get husband, hitchhiked across the country with another man, only to get left herself in Iowa. She leaves us hanging there, to wonder about the rest.

We siesta in Wildwood, next to the foundation of the store, burnt down two years ago now, then water up at an RV park. It’s not 100 degrees up here, but it’s still pretty warm.

We ride out late afternoon, and crest the passes. The road here has no shoulder, no guard-rail, and a sheer dropoff. I blast a downhill riding in the middle of the road, but right down the razor edge of excitement and fear.

The fading light convinces us to try and get off the road. We spot a group of cars on a side road and pull off, thinking it’s the campground. The group of tweaked-out backwoods rednecks, after telling us to watch out for cartels, and to stay out of the marijuana grows, gives us directions to a campsite in a couple miles. Righty-O.

Another beautiful, heart-racing downhill. I’m getting more comfortable letting the bike rip down 7% downhills. Hell’s Gate awaits us, turning out to be a lovely campground on the South Fork of the Trinity River. The river is full of crawdads, and Pacman fills up our three-liter pot with the teeny river lobsters. I catch only five because I’m afraid of those terrifying half-inch pincers.

Our campground neighbors are two retired guys on their yearly camping trip here, and they make room at their picnic table for some hiker trash. (In return, we make some room in their cooler…) We have a crawdad boil and cook dinner and laugh at how crazy this is, that we’re here, that we made it through the central valley, that we made it up the passes, that we made it down the passes too, that the PCT can be this too…

We fall asleep under the stars, straining our eyes for a glimpse of the Perseids meteor shower, but see only the full moon instead.



Day 97: and then there were three

Day 97
Miles: 29*
From Red Bluff to the shoe tree

Sometimes you just need to sleep on it, and then in the morning you know what to do. 3D seems just as lost this morning as last night. She wants to come to the coast, but she’s not going to ride the passes on the 36. She wants to get back on the trail, doesn’t know where to start back to. A bus to Arcata? Redding? Ashland? “I’ll flip a coin. Heads I come with you guys.” Tails. “Best two out of three.” Tails.

We go to the donut shop, hang out for a bit, then it’s time to part ways. 3D rides off alone in the other direction. Oh man.

Up Main Street, then a left back onto the 36. It only takes us a few minutes to get out of town, start riding through the countryside. We pass a goat farm, and Pacman bleats at the goats. They bleat back. “Did you see that little goat back there?” he exclaims, “he was all, ‘I’m coming too!’ ”

It’s super hot. The high for Red Bluff today is 99 degrees, and we’re not any higher in elevation. The sweat is rolling down my face, my arms, my back. We pull over onto the side of the road under some oak trees, and we all lie on the ground to sweat some more.


Ride, stop. Ride, stop. Heavy laden blackberry bushes hold us up for a bit, sweet, purple, warm (hot). Ride, stop. It’s simply too hot. We’re aiming for the South fork of the Cottonwood River, marked in blue on our road map. Cool blue water, swimming holes, water to drink and pour over ourselves… all figments of our imaginations.

The river is dry.

If this is dry, it may be a long time till our next water. “Let’s wait it out here?” suggests Pacman, stopping past the river in the driveway of a gated dirt road. “Wait till it cools off. No point sweating out all our water.”


It doesn’t cool off, but it’s 4pm and we decide to start back up. I’m in front, pedaling away, but all of a sudden we’re losing Pacman. We’d planned to ride for an hour but I stop early to wait up. He rolls up, lays down his bike, pulls out a Gatorade bottle, frozen solid.

“Wait a minute, where did that come from?” I ask. “Have you been carrying that all day!?”
  “Nah, I stopped at the farmhouse we passed, asked for dinner water. The lady gave me this. Chick was cool, but wouldn’t open the door. I turned around for something and when I turned back the water was outside.” He has some other water as well, and we share it, passing around the frozen bottle until the ice is melted across hot necks and backs and bellies. We’ve been short water all day – this helps, but isn’t enough. The Middle Fork of the Cottonwood is also marked on the map (in blue), and at fifteen miles away seems achievable.

Achievable some other day, but Pacman is done, toast. I’ve been slow to realize the seriousness of the situation. J and I are hot and exhausted, he’s in danger of heat stroke. We’re out of water. It’s getting late – soon it will be too dark to ride. This whole bike trip is turning into something of a mess: a dehydrated, hot, exhausting mess. The back of my brain keeps asking me how a PCT thru-hike turned into being stuck in California’s central valley, on a bicycle, when it’s a hundred degrees, without any water. “I don’t know, brain! It seemed like a good idea two days ago!”


Hot, but charming.

There’s a sort of pullout where we’re stopped, and we decide to try and camp. I start rolling my bike across the grass and fill both my bike tires with thorns, instantaneously. Pacman too. “Stop! Stop!” I yell at J. “Don’t bring your bike back here!”

Pacman’s tires seem ok, and my front seems ok, but my back tire starts to hiss when the thorns come out. I swap in my spare tube.

We really need water now if we’re going to continue. Pacman is laying on the side of the road trying not to vomit. I take the lid off my ditty box, white plastic, and write WATER PLEASE in sharpie across it, in hard black letters. (Ah-ha, I think. This is a low point.)

Two cars pass – ZOOM     ZOOM    which is incredible to me. What would I have to write on my sign to get these people to stop? A fire truck zooms past, then slams on the brakes when they get in reading distance. They’re skidding to a stop; J is riding to meet them. By the time I’ve turned my bike around and met them there are four firemen, arms full of water bottles and Gatorade. I can’t stop saying thank you. They end up emptying their personal canteens into our bottles as well, while telling us that the river is dry, but Platina is fifteen miles from here – we’ll have to make it there tomorrow. The firemen are from Denver, where my parents live, which seems like a talisman, or omen maybe. Like the force of my mother’s love charmed them here to help us.

We ride another half mile but Pacman can’t do it, and we stop under a huge oak tree with a wide, gravel pullout for us to rest at. There’s a pair of old underwear and a crusty sleeping bag there already, then I look up. Shoes! Hundreds of pairs, flip flops, boots, sneakers, all festooning the sturdy oak limbs. “I don’t know whether to think this is cool or creepy, guys.” (The old underwear is definitely creepy.)
  “Hopefully it doesn’t mean anything,” replies J.
  “We can try and keep going,” adds Pacman.
  “No, I don’t think we can. We’ll stay here.” So we camp beneath the shoe tree on the side of the road, grassy hills dotted with oaks rolling out in all directions, split up by dry gulches. It’s like an illustration out of a children’s book, charming and golden. I hope Pacman can ride tomorrow. I hope we don’t get murdered tonight.



Day 98: boot and rally, round two

Day 98
Miles: 11*
From the shoe tree to Beegum Creek

The night turned into a surprising and blessed cool one, and at the cusp of dawn, breeze across my face, it is perfect. Perfect for sleeping. Man, I do not want to get up. We need to get started soon though, because we need to get Pacman someplace he can recover.

He still feels terrible, weak. We ride two miles, then we have to stop. One mile, stop. Pacman has a flat. He lays on the ground, trying not to vomit, and J and I change it for him. Two miles, and there’s a tiny general store! Water! Shade!

The guy running the store wants nothing to do with three sweaty, homeless looking bicyclists. It doesn’t take a professional to know we’re not the real deal – no lycra clad road warriors here. Pacman warms him up for us somehow – he could butter up a nun if he wanted – and we sit on the porch and drink water. The thermometer rises from 79, to 80, to 89…

The guy tells us the river is dry, but there’s a spring fed creek before then. It’s at the bottom of the big climb up the mountain passes, and there’s a way to scramble down. No one will bother us there, he says. There will be a place to stash our bikes.

It’s not a hundred degrees yet. To Beegum Creek!

It’s just as promised, a cool, running creek underneath a bridge. We hide our bikes in the driveway down to the property next to the creek (right next to the keep out sign) and scramble down to the water. It’s beautiful. There’s a small sandy beach in the shade, and we lay in the creek till we’re cool, then lay down in the beach to nap, where we all sleep for hours.




Nothing to do but relax, swim, read. We’re not going anywhere till Pacman feels better. This might be the first time this entire trip where I’ve felt completely relaxed, with no pressure to stop dilly dallying, to get back on the trail, to keep going, to go, to go, to go.

After Pacman wakes up from his nap, in the golden afternoon, he announces he’s going to build a dam and improve the swimming hole. “Ah,” I think. “We’re out of the woods. We’ll ride tomorrow.”

We swim, relax, and read till dark. The moon is nearly full, brilliant. I take off my clothes and slip into the water and float for a held-breath, hovering between black water and moonlit sky.

Tomorrow we ride.


Day 96: a sore backside

Day 96
Miles: 75*
*bicycle miles
From Chester, CA to Red Bluff, CA

I hear Pacman and 3D rustling around next to me in the gray dawn. I’m comfortable and warm on the floor of the dentist’s carport, but today is day zero. I crawl out of my quilt and start packing up. J bought a pair of padded boxers, which he pulls on. Pacman found a pair of padded bike shorts at the thrift store, and 3D was given a pair by Tooth Fairy. “Dang,” I say, putting on my non-padded pants. “I feel left out.”

We’ve all got different setups to jerryrig our backpacks into bikepacks. J wins for the tidiest: he bought two 5gal rubbermaid storage bins and lashed them to his fender rack, with another three gallon bin lashed on top. Looks neat, clean. Driving a wide-load.

Pacman wins for style. He picked up a pair of leather saddlebags at the thrift store. 3D reminds me vaguely of the wicked witch of the west (the Kansas one), with a bucket on one side and an old wicker basket on the other, trash bags with stuff in them lashed on top.

My own bike packing setup has turned out well, I think. I’m pleased. Chuck from Bodfish Bicycles threw in a basket with the purchase of the bicycle, so I didn’t have to rig up panniers. I found some giant ziploc bags at the Dollar General that I’m going to use protect my gear. You can use a vacuum to suck the extra air out of the bags, but I’m guessing I’m not going to use that feature. I ziptied on a little storage container for odds and ends, and a couple bungees over the top secures it all. I found an old fishing pole in the trash, so I ziptied it to my basket and put a handkerchief flag on it for a buggy whip. In sharpie I wrote: TEAM WHISKERS. (Dumpster-diving, a time-honoured family tradition.)

After a stop at the coffee shop there’s no more procrastinating to do, so we get on our bikes and ride out of town. I can’t believe we’re doing this. (Neither can anyone else. Parting words from the old-man cyclist at the coffee shop was basically a scoff.)


Two miles out of town, there’s no shoulder on the road, and I’m getting buzzed by logging trucks. I can’t believe I’m doing this. I focus on the four inches of crumbling pavement to the right of the white line – the bike lane.

We stop at the PCT trailhead. No one has signed the trail register in four days – no one has crossed Hwy 36 and gone on. The trail stops here. We sign back in. This departure feels more official somehow. 3D is already uncomfortable – “do you want these padded shorts?” she offers to me. “I think they’re making things worse.”
  “Sure.” I take them from her. Her free shorts also happen to be men’s XL shorts… I pull the spandex shorts straight over my pants. It looks stupid, but way less stupid than you’d think.


Uphill, man

There’s no real plan for the day, in terms of mileage, or stops. We’re just biking off into the sunset, see where we end up. None of us know how this is going to go. We have strong legs, but not for biking. None of us have ever sat on a bicycle seat for more than three hours running. I imagine these first days are going to be terrible, sort of like our first days out of Campo. In other words, unbelievable suffering, then it will get better. I know now that I can suffer for a long time, so that’s ok, although I hope the curve for this is a little bit shorter.

The profile on Google maps showed that it was all downhill from Chester to Red Bluff… on closer inspection, it’s all downhill except for the uphill that comes first. A thousand feet of uphill to break us in, or just break us. I’m glad I have 21 gears because I’m in the lowest one. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Hiking half of the PCT taught me that you can go really slow and still get really far, if you only keep going. So I downshift and keep going. Downshift and keep going again. Every pedal a new pedal.

We stop at a pullout to catch our breath, give our backsides a break. “This is not awesome,” Pacman declares, ruefully rubbing his nether regions.
  “I don’t think this is ok,” replies 3D. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this with this much… compression.”
  “Things aren’t great over here either,” commiserates J.
  “Do you want to try switching seats?” 3D asks him. Her seat has too much padding, and it’s squishing her lady bits. J’s seat is too hard, but it’s not as bulky. They swap. Bicycles are cool machines, but after a hundred years, they still haven’t worked the kinks out of the seat. Surely by now they could have come up with something that doesn’t cause infertility?

First you go up, then you go down. We summit at 5750 feet above sea level: Red Bluff is at 350. The grinding uphill (I probably could’ve walked faster) is replaced with exhilarating, terrifying speed. The road widens out a little, so the shoulder is an entire foot, instead of the 4 inches I’ve been trying to balance on, but I ditch that entirely and ride in the middle of the road. A little rock on the shoulder here could seriously mess me up. My mind keeps wandering to scenarios of skidding out and destroying my face on asphalt. “Pay attention Gizmo!” I admonish myself. “Eyes on the road! Mind in the present!” I struggle to stay mindful and present on the trail, but there is no room for that here.

We’d only planned on doing forty miles today, maybe fifty? But the downhill sucks us into complacency. We can go thirty miles an hour! (At least on a 6% downhill grade.) 

Down out of the pines now, into oak country, and it’s hot. There’s so much smoke in the air that it’s overcast, which helps, but we’re out of the high country. We stop on the side of the road to rest, and a crazed looking old man with a beer walks out towards us from behind an abandoned building. “Well,” I think. “This is where we get shot.”

“Howdy!” Pacman calls out. The man comes over and chats. Maybe a casualty of heavy drug use in the seventies, but friendly. Turns out he bicycled around the continent with his wife back in the day – 9000 miles. “Twenty-one speed tandem, man. That thing was fast. Forty-five on the downhills. We had our problems, you know man? Tire caught on fire coming down out of Humboldt. But it was good. You’re really free when you’re on a bicycle.” He fills up our water bottles and offers us a place to stay. 3D has visions of a new bicycle seat dancing in her head though, and if it stays downhill we can make it to a bike shop… We continue.


We’re only ten miles away from Red Bluff, but we finished the downhill, and we’re on a long, rolling section of ups and downs. (Nothing clues you into grade better than a bicycle, walking included.) There’s no way we’ll make it to Red Bluff during business hours, so the rest of us would like to stop. 3D hesitates for several minutes at where we’ve stopped, at a trailhead parking area for access to the Sacramento River, but ultimately can’t banish the visions of a hot shower and a bed, and she takes off towards town.

We’re already sprawled out on some desert pavement, rocky but flat, with oak trees rising out of long golden grass like soft, yellow fog. The sky is dim with smoke, the sun orange in the haze, the hillsides disappearing quickly into gray. It’s all very post-apocalyptic. We take off our shirts, lay down, and sweat.



After half an hour 3D texts us that she made it to town. “That was faster than I expected,” says Pacman. “I think I could rally and get there after this break.”
  “Me too,” I reply. “I just needed to stop for a minute.” I’m feeling guilty – and I think the others are too – about letting our team splinter so fast. So we get up, put our clothes back on, and go to town.


Crossing the Sacramento River in red bluff.

We get cheap hotel rooms and take blessed, wonderful showers. We did 75 miles. It wasn’t walking, sure, but it was too many. We’re going to be real screwed up tomorrow. I think 3D is done with this. I sort of expected the four of us to split off at some point, but not this soon. I’m feeling down about that, but I think I’m still excited about this. I don’t know that I’ll be able to bicycle tomorrow, but I want to try. J and I are going to ride this out a little further. Pacman might come with us, but he’s going to stick with 3D if she decides to hitch or to bike north from Red Bluff instead of to the coast – make sure she doesn’t get stranded alone, at least.

Things always look better in the morning, see how it is tomorrow.



Day 95
Miles: 0
Chester, California

Today’s the day to decide: where to from here? Am I really going to pedal blaze the PCT? I think so.

This interruption in my thru-hike comes at such a strange time. Exactly halfway. Halfway to where? To an imaginary line drawn a long time ago? To a little monument in the woods, but nowhere in particular? To enlightenment? Happiness? Two more months of crazy foot pain?

The trail was the thread, a brown ribbon of continuity tying together the days, pulling me forwards, wrapping me up in obsessive thoughts about WALKING FASTER. With the thread severed I feel adrift – untethered – lost – free. 

Outside the grocery store we run into fellow hikers Chris and Sarah. “Be honest,” Sarah lowers her voice, looks me straight in the eye, “don’t you feel like you’ve sort of been let off the hook?”

Yes! Yes, I do. If the trail is there, if I can walk, I feel obligated to finish. It’s what I set out to do, and I finish what I start. Now, with the fires, what was one path has branched into many. Road walk? Hitchhike? Skip and flip? Skip and come back next year? Go home?

Options/questions, every day has them, but today they have me. I’m relieved to have nowhere to walk to for a moment. The horrible obsession/anxiety about walking more, walking faster, walking harder, walking longer… all gone. My pilgrimage had turned into something else, something less, and I can reinvent it again.

It’s going to be born again, with oceans and fog, redwoods and sea cliffs.

At the library I spend a while looking at routes, but the internet is too slow to accomplish anything. I stop by the local dentist to say Hi to Tooth Fairy, and I am given a complimentary toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and homemade cookies. I inquire about chiropractors in town – I’ve got something up with my back and neck and it’s driving me crazy – but the two in town are closed on Mondays. She says to try Good Vibrations, a local health/art shop – they do massage therapy.

I walk into Good Vibrations, an eclectic mix of beautiful prints, alternative health supplements, crystals, and knick-knacks. I’ve hardly explained my predicament to the two ladies running the store before I’m on a massage table getting worked on. It feels like something underneath my shoulder blade is twisted, pinching up into my neck and down my back, and my left arm has been twitching for three days now. Oh, to finally have someone touching it, with magic fingers, magicking it into place again! Sharon doesn’t let me pay – “go buy a bicycle!” she tells me. “Good luck on your journey!”

J and I head over towards the bicycle shop. It’s closed, but the owner of Bodfish Bicycles, Chuck, is going to open it up just for us at three.

It’s his one day off a week, but there he is at the shop, our bikes-to-be outside in a row. Pacman and 3D are already here. Bicycles, spare tubes, helmets, racks… Chuck is incredibly generous, both in materials and in time. (Far more than we expected or deserved… Chester is full of trail angels, but Chuck more than earned his wings.) I get out my little rectangle of plastic and for the first time in my life, I’m the owner of a brand new bicycle.

We’re all giddy with our purchases, riding around the parking lot like Christmas morning. “Team Whiskers! Rowr!” Pacman yells.
  “Team Whiskers!” 3D joins in. Spending money like this, all at once, is like giving blood, but now it’s over and we’re lightheaded and bicycled.

The day is overwhelming with feelings, kindness, new adventures. Bicycles! I’ve lost my mind! I don’t think I’ve ever sat on a bicycle for more than two hours running. Looks like that’s about to change.

The rest of the evening we spend discussing ideas for the trip, plans for transferring our pack contents to our bike racks, and just being excited. Every day a new day, right?


Chuck, 3D, Pacman, and Dirtnap (J).


We’re going to be riding in style!


Day 94: committing

Day 94
Miles: 0
Chester, California

I don’t sleep well in towns. Too much going on, too many lights, the internet. I stayed up too late trawling the web and convincing myself that I have Plantar fasciitis. I wake up earlier than the past week, exhausted, restless. We’re sleeping in the church backyard and services start at 9 – probably shouldn’t leave this place looking like a homeless camp (although, for all intents, that’s what it currently is. What is a PCT hiker without with PCT?)

3D and Pacman are already at the coffee shop when we get there, talking with a guy who may have bicycles for us – they take off to go look at them; we go to the library book sale. If we’re going to be on bicycles, maybe I’ll carry a book! Or two! Luxuries of the trail…

3D and Pacman come back with bad news – their friend, Mike, has plenty of bicycles… but none which are assembled. He has all the pieces: frames, pedals, gear shifters, wheels, etc. None of us has the expertise to completely assemble a bike. Not one I’m planning on riding down a highway. I’m sure I could get one together, gears crunching, handlebars askew.

There’s a bike shop in this little town, let’s see if this pipe dream has a chance.

The bike shop owner doesn’t have time to catch his breath between customers, and certainly isn’t concerned with us, but he throws us a little help. He’ll help Pacman put together the scraps of bicycle that he got from Mike. There are two rentals for sale, ok price, that fit 3D and J. I’m the one out of luck – I’ll have to swing for a new bike or figure out something else.

I’ve never had a brand new bicycle before. Could be fun?

I’m exhausted and unsure. Am I really committing to this? Is it worth it for the money I’ll have to spend? Can I even do it, physically? I’m going to sleep on it. The library will be open for business tomorrow and we’ll be able to plan routes, figure out gear, check our other options.


Day 93: a change in plans

Day 93
Miles: 3
From soldier creek to Chester

A good night’s sleep – we may be back in business. Maybe I’ll do this second half after all. That’s no reason to rush out of camp though – we continue our trend of leisurely mornings, and are still getting ready when Far-out walks up.

We’re planning on heading to the Warner campground for the night. We would have gone into Chester last night, if we could’ve gotten to hwy 36 in time to hitch, but since we didn’t we’ll skip the stop entirely.

No burgers for us, but there is trail magic. Sodas! On ice! While I’m drinking my root beer, I check for cell service, and end up on facebook. The PCT facebook groups are blowing up with posts about fires. Here. Fires here, in California section N.

“J, that fire we saw yesterday – it looks like it’s across the trail.”
  “Up ahead? Is it closed?”
  “I’m trying to figure out.” The information on the web uses real landmarks and forest service roads to describe the burn area – things that mean nothing to me. In fact, for the entire length of the trail I’ve been in the curious situation of knowing  precisely where I am, while having no real ideas of where that location itself is. I’ll know I’m at mile 1145.87 on Halfmile’s maps, two miles from water, eight miles from town (for example), but not be able to tell you what the major roads are, what towns are in the area, exactly which national forest I’m in…

It looks like this fire might definitely be in our way though. I’m puzzling over it on a slow internet connection when other hikers start arriving at the hwy 36 junction as well – Far-out, Pippin, Tarzan & Jane. Two Feathers and Pacman, who are coming out of Chester, arrive as well.

In addition to California section N, trail section P is also now closed, and it looks like section R (last section before Oregon) is going to possibly be closed soon. That’s going to make it a bit tough to hike through…

We don’t just have one reroute in front of us, we have a couple hundred miles of detours staring us in the face. Everything I find out only raises more questions. For now, however, it looks like I’m going into Chester after all. The Bald Fire up ahead is 5000 acres and growing.

Chester has a reputation as a hard hitch (only seven miles too), which it lives up to. A trail angel in town (thanks again, Tooth Fairy!) saves us the long walk and comes and picks up all of us except for Two Feathers, who decided to walk to the next town north, Old Station.

I feel so derailed by this. Getting up and keeping walking is hard enough without decisions. I think back to J on Muir Pass, saying how the PCT is something he decided to do once, and he simply hasn’t reevaluated. I’m afraid that if I have to reevaluate, I’ll just go home. Back to where I’m not tired all the time, to where my feet don’t hurt all the time. The PCT isn’t a trip, it’s a pilgrimage. If I’m going to skip hundreds of miles, what’s the point?

There’s an art fair going on in town,  and there is no room at the inn. Any inn. They’re all full. The local Lutheran pastor takes us in, and lets us camp in the backyard of the church (appropriate). The local dentist gives us gift certificates to eat at the restaurant across the street, where we munch fish tacos and digest the turn of events. J wants to hang out – I want to know what we’re doing with our lives.

I’ve gone back to the church to mull things over, when J comes back with 3D in tow. “Bicycles!” she announces. “Pacman and I are going to ride bikes to Ashland.” They’ve hooked up with a local guy who fixes up old bikes, and they’re going to try to bike around the detours. They’ll check out the bicycles tomorrow.

Bicycles! The idea is crazy – I’ve never ridden a bicycle more than 20 miles in a row in my life – but it’s the first idea that has made me want to continue this journey. We’d ride out to the coast, ride on California 101, see the redwoods… it’s exciting, unscripted, but has that thread, that continuity I need to carry me through. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if this is even feasible.

Meanwhile, the Bald Fire is growing. 18,000 acres now.

We heat up cans of soup on the church’s back porch, tell stories and laugh, get ready for bed. 26,000 acres. “What do you think about this?” I whisper to J, lying next to me in his sleeping bag.
  “If the bikes look good, let’s do it.”
  “Sounds good.”

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.


Day 92: halfway at last

Day 92
Miles: 20
From four miles past cold springs to soldier creek

Cowboy camping seemed like such a good idea last night. It’d be a little bit cooler, we’d be able to see the stars, we’d get up earlier, and there were no bugs to bother us.

The bugs were just waiting for us to relax our guard.

The ants came one at a time. The mosquitoes descended as a horde with the descent of the sun. They were waiting for it to cool off too. Sleeping bags pulled over the head kept the mosquitoes at bay, but the ants always found a way.

I don’t know that the mosquitoes even bit me – but that unbearable whine! The ants definitely bit me. On top of all that, I’ve had a muscle knot in my back that bothers me when I lay down, so I tossed, turned, pulled ants out of my pants and my hair, flailed at invisible mosquitoes, and did it all again. If I feel asleep, J was flailing around instead.

Too tired to fix the situation, not quite tired enough to sleep through it – it was a horrible night. Dawn came, and my alarms as well, and the mosquitoes finally left. We meant to get up in time to get to the town of Chester tonight – maybe get a motel room, eat out – we sleep instead.

“Tonight, we use the net-tent,” declares J, when we do get up. Too bad tonight is such a long ways away.

The first part of the day takes us out of the dense forest onto an open ridgeline with crunchy, volcanic rock outcroppings. We can see Mt Lassen to the north, some reservoir to the east, green mountains everywhere else. J and I are both exhausted.


We stop to water up at Little Cub Spring. I don’t know if it’s meat stick from yesterday sitting wrong, or perhaps one of the springs we drank from and didn’t filter, but my stomach feels awful. J is having problems too. We eat plain tortillas for lunch, then lay dejectedly on the ground for a while. But these miles don’t walk themselves…

We’ve come up onto a ridge again, looking north at Mt Lassen again, bit this time it seems to be exploding?? There are big cumulus clouds building too, but there’s definitely a plume – and growing fast. “Couldn’t be,” says J in disbelief. “We would’ve heard it.”
  “That thing is definitely not a cloud.”
  “No, it looks like a freaking plinian eruption. Do you have internet service?”
  “Nope,” I reply, after checking. “Looks like we’ll just keep walking towards it.”


It’s still a long ways off. We’re not worried, merely baffled. Besides, if there was a volcanic eruption, and we ended up having to skip a section… I can’t say that I’d mind.

When we can see the mountain again, we’ve moved a fair bit to the east, so we can tell that their plume isn’t coming directly out of Mt Lassen, but to the side of it. It still doesn’t look like a cloud though. “Maybe forest fire?” suggests J.
  “Most likely…” I reply.

Back down in the trees. My severe foot pain is back – not the tired foot aches, the shooting pain up my heels. I put my audiobook on and spend some more time in the French Revolution. I’m so caught up in it I almost walk past it – the halfway marker on the PCT.


(The best happy we can fake for the camera.)

Halfway! Three months to do it, to the day. I’m not sure I want to do this for another three months, or even for two (which we’re aiming for). Not if my feet are going to hurt like this every day. The trail register is full of hikers talking about lighting up in celebration, but we settle for just eating twice our day’s ration of fun-size candy bars. The other topic, especially for hikers right in front of us, is about needing to speed up, or deciding to skip ahead, then come back and do Oregon later. I guess I’m not the only one getting worked up about finishing.

We keep going. Less miles to go than we’ve already done… my feet hurt, and I cry. (Luckily, we’re going downhill. When I cry on the uphills I always end up hyperventilating, which is embarrassing, and makes it hard to walk.) Maybe I’m just exhausted and not feeling well, but I want to go home. At least, 49% of me does. The other 51% is morally opposed to quitting. All the percents of me that were having an awesome time appear to be on vacation somewhere else.

The water at soldier creek, when we get there, is cold and flowing well. There are campsites. I sit down next to my pack in order to feel sorry for myself more effectively. “You want to just camp here?” asks J.
  “I wasn’t planning on going anywhere,” I tell him.
  “Good,” he says. His feet hurt too. He’s exhausted too.



Day 91: a world to ourselves

Day 91
Miles: 17
From the Williams cabin site to four miles past cold springs

After a big physical exertion, it’s always the second day after that I really feel it. The 28 miles from day before yesterday are hanging over me today, holding me down in a groggy dream-land, where I have deep cracks in my skin, like mud cracks. You can see down in them, see the layers of skin and fat, and they’re oozing, and they have sand in them, and my mother just sold her teeth to save the farm, and J is stirring besides me. We’re in the tarp. Time to get up.


Pacman, 3D, and Namaste are gone with the sunrise, or perhaps any of the three hours after sunrise – I wouldn’t know. J and I face the eight miles of difficult uphill and promptly get hung up just three miles in, at Chip’s creek. The Dude told us there was a beautiful swimming hole here… and there is. “What do you think,” asks J. “Nekkid?”
  “Sure.” We strip our clothes, already sweat-drenched, and get in. J gets in – I make a big production out of it, get my feet wet, get out, do it again, then finally dunk myself. I hate cold water, but I love it.


Cool and wet, I stand on a rock and let a breeze blow around me -first time I’ve been cool in days. “Why does it feel so good to be naked outside?” I muse out loud. “Because it feels so free? So innocent? So safe? Like the entire world is yours?”
  “Hippies know a thing or two,” answers J.
  “Are we hippies? Have we turned into hippies? Maybe just hiker trash.”

Next to the swimming hole is a stand of thimbleberry bushes, with a thimbleberry bonanza. Our fingers and mouths are stained pink before long.

All I want to do is to swim, nap, eat thimbleberries, and then do it all again. I’m not really in a thru-hiking state of mind. The biggest problem with thru-hiking, far as I can tell, it’s that it involves so much hiking. Some days it would be nice to just camp.


It’s hot and humid, but the climb awaits. Hot day, heavy packs, tired legs, uphill… one step at a time.

Right before we crest the ridge, we stop for water at Andesite Spring. It’s clear and cold, so cold. J pours some over his head and gasps for a while. “I don’t think the water in the Braatens’ fridge was cold as this!” Figuring that water this cold must come straight from underground, we drink it unfiltered.

After the spring, we walk through trees. Can’t say I’m too enamored of this stretch of forest. The trees are close together and all the same. There’s no understory except dead branches and downed trees, which make a dense maze of the forest floor. The trail crews must have spent weeks here with chainsaws.

We stop again at cold springs, the last water for thirteen miles. We cook dinner to avoid carrying water for it, I wash my socks, my feet. This has been a hot and dusty stretch of trail. I’d have liked to get twenty miles in today, but none of my choices put me in the position to accomplish that. You can’t have a late start, a long lunch, lots of stops, and hike slow… and still do twenty miles before sundown.


No twenty miles, but we squeak in a few more before bed and get in seventeen. The sunset through the trees throws bars of golden light through the dense pine groves – a brilliant, burning sky barred with black. We’ve found a nice spot on the ridge to camp, a high spot with eastern exposure. We get up earlier with the sun on our faces. Maybe better walking tomorrow.





Day 90: closing up shop

Day 90
Miles: 6
From Belden (the Braatens’) to the Williams cabin site

I went to bed radiating aches, and hot, then slept the uncomfortable sleep off the overtired. This morning I wake up groggy, tired… and surprisingly ok. Namaste, 3D, and Pacman come in, and we all head to the diner at the RV park down the street (caribou crossroads RV park? Are we in Alaska or something?).

The food is surprisingly good -we order biscuits and gravy, three egg omelets, breakfast burritos, French toast, milkshakes. We pay for a load of laundry, then I put together a box to mail forward to Portland. I’ve decided to send forward the shirt top of my long johns, my rain pants, and my extra handkerchief. It’s tough saying goodbye to my rain pants – they keep me so warm – it’s just that keeping cool is the problem lately. Probably close to two pounds there, no longer on my back. I’m happy about that. I’m getting tired of carrying things around.

Back at the Braatens’, Pacman, Namaste and J take off to go swimming in the river across the street. 3D and I stay in and blog – chores. (3D is an artist doing a super cool project on her hike. Check out her site HERE.) I’m halfway through this hike, and I’m not going to quit now, but keeping this blog up has been (and continues to be) a difficult thing to do. One extra thing to do, every day. Especially now that I’m three weeks behind after not blogging the entire High Sierra. The solar panel from Dan has solved my power issues, but it did not magically write my posts for me. “If I only do two posts a day,” I tell myself, “eventually I’ll catch up.”

A couple of south-bound section hikers also come in, Mimi and The Dude. Mimi is heading home, so The Dude is reworking his whole setup for a solo trip. He passes on his three liter platypus bag to us, so we have a way to filter water again. Hallelujah. It’s actually a bounty of food and goods at the Braatens’. The Braatens are trail angels for just one month. If you miss the window, you’re outta luck – and tonight will be their last night. Everyone who resupplies in Belden has to send their own food, so the hiker box here is the best I’ve seen since the Saufleys’. There’s no one to leave the food for, but the stuff in our boxes is better. I’ll take my chocolate covered macaroons over their dehydrated chicken any day.

Meanwhile, we discuss our plans going forward and possible mileage plans to finish this trail before winter. “You know, I tell 3D, “if we hike just 22 miles a day, every day, we’ll get to Canada by October.”
  “With no zero days?”
  “No zero days.”
  “Well, that won’t work,” protests 3D.
  “If you do 23, you can take five zeros,” I proffer.
  “That might be doable.”

For those of us hellbent on finishing a complete thru-hike this year, time is no longer our friend. It’s taken me three months to do half the trail, but I only have two months for the second, if I’m really trying to beat the snow in the north cascades. I run the math all the time – “so, if I hike 30 miles a day for this section, then I can take four fifteen mile days in that section, or….”

All the math always works out the same: I have to get up and hike, for a long time, every day.

J comes back from the river with a hat full of blackberries. We sort our food boxes into our food bags. Seven days of food means we’re walking out of here heavy. There’s a scale here, so we know. Both our packs weigh 30 lbs each. Not bad for seven days of food for hungry hikers.


After five we’ve waited out most the heat, so we sling on our packs. Brenda gives us a ride to the trail head and sees us off.

The descent into Belden yesterday means there is a mirror image waiting for us. This trail goes uphill for miles from here. Even at five it’s hot, but J and I, 3D, Pacman and Namaste get started.


North fork of the Feather River, ascending from Belden. It’s too bad we haven’t figured out how to leave our rivers alone – rail on one side, road on the other, then powerlines overhead.

Six miles, it’s getting dark, and we’ve found a spot we can all camp. J and I get in first, and set up on the side of the creek closer to the trail. When everyone else shows up, I tell them: “there’s more flat spots over there, but there’s also a bunch of junk. It was a little creepy so we camped here.”

3D comes back from across the creek – “a little creepy? There is a bucket of knives! Bottles of bleach and gasoline! A cauldron! A tarp full of who knows what!”
  “Yeah, a little creepy,” I laugh.
  “What was in the tarp, dead babies?” Pacman deadpans.
  “Oh, definitely,” returns 3D. We all end up camping on this side of the creek.

It’s nice to be camping with people again. It seems like a long time since we had a little crew. Uphill for breakfast tomorrow, for all of us.